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'Tis the Season for Prescreens

Updated: Nov 3, 2018

Writing essays, requesting recommendations, completing applications--all part of the college application process, right? Once those steps are complete, most college applicants breathe a sigh of relief and move-on to completing scholarship applications, waiting for responses and returning to living their senior year. Not so for performing arts program applicants. Their adventure has just begun as they venture into territory that few, if any, college counselors or parents have tread. The next steps for those interested in performing arts programs are program applications and pre-screens. If you haven't completed these by now, it's time to get a jump on them. The bad news: If you're looking to secure an audition spot at the most competitive musical theatre and acting schools, you may be too late. The good news: There are the possibilities of walk-in slots, later admission deadlines PLUS, the less competitive schools are still out there. You DEFINITELY want to consider them.

Most of the programs to which my daughter applied required a separate, relatively short, application for the specific program. These applications do require some pre-planning, as a performance resume, headshot, essay questions, MORE recommendations and questionnaires are components for completion. Make a note that these additional applications also include additional fees. Among the additional application pieces, we found the pre-screen videos to be the most time-consuming part.

Many, but not all, programs require pre-screens. The up-side of the pre-screen process is, if done right, they can be a great representation of your talent and in the end, they genuinely save the auditionee time and money. The down-side is, you are judged on a video performance, which stage actors sometimes struggle with. Fortunately, the goal is to get the invite to the live audition and a well-crafted pre-screen might be the ticket.

My daughter received callbacks from 11 of the 12 programs to which she applied. My friends within the college world also indicated her pre-screens were solid. Based on this feedback, our pre-screen process seemed quite successful. We DID do our research and followed Earl Weaver's advice. Earl is the Musical Theatre professor at Univ. of Central Florida and has created some excellent resources. I also chronicled our pre-screen play-by-play in a previous blog post:

With this information in hand, I offer a few guidelines:


The first piece I'd share is DON'T record unless you're prepared. You don't have to record every video in one session, but you certainly may. Know your material inside and out, know what pieces you need to record, what you'll wear, and have your accompaniment or an accompanist ready. If it's a live accompanist, that means getting your music to them more than a few days out and rehearsing together. Monologues should be memorized and worked, dances choreographed and perfected and songs at their performance best. Most of us don't have the luxury of space access, accompanist talent or unlimited time, so plan ahead and prepare. This step will make the recording process move as quickly as possible.


Believe it or not, the phone in your back pocket has become a valuable tool for recording videos such as these. The quality is more than acceptable, as long as you ensure certain factors are in place.

- Use a stand or hold the camera/phone VERY steadily.

- Frame from approximately the waist up. I personally like to see hands in audition videos, so don't cut them off in the frame.

- Don't include the accompanist in the frame.

- Use the camera lens or slightly to the left or right of the lens as your scene partner.

- Select a neutral, non-distracting background for recording.

- Dress appropriately (think job interview).

- Test the sound quality of the recording to confirm the piano doesn't overpower the voice or high/low notes aren't distorted.

- Review your recording. I highly recommend the performer speak into this, no matter how hard it is for them to watch themselves. The results will be significantly better if the actor reviews each take, self-corrects, and gets to say, "I'm done".

Editing & Uploading

There's really no need to do heavy editing or add titles. The only editing we did was framing one or two shots more cleanly using imovie. The process of uploading should be pretty easy for digital natives and if you get stuck, a quick internet search will yield excellent results. Once again, check the quality of the upload and confirm it sounds and looks as good as it did on the recording device.

We were able to use Micah's videos for scholarship applications and other auditions, so this can be time well spent if you put the emphasis on quality.

Want more specific information on pre-screens and other aspects of the audition process from the parent and student perspective? Visit or download The College Audition Process: A Survival Guide. Happy recording!

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